ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home   ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music)


An African man is trying to shave my soul, to convert me to his belief

that if we pray, God will answer our prayers and allow Africa

to become a country rather than a death-friendly continent.



Books by Jerry W. Ward  Jr.

Trouble the Water (1997) / Black Southern Voices (1992) / The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)  / The Katrina Papers

*   *   *   *   *

August 18-20, 2006: Returning to the Sources

 By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.


Some days I feel like a helium balloon one second before the string connects it with the earth.

Compromised freedom has become a major issue in my country since the Supreme Court elected George W. Bush, since 9/11 became the debatable icon of the twenty-first century, since Hurricane Katrina became the name of our national tragedy. We who believe that the United States is the most perfect example in history of what a democracy should be have an enormous problem of explaining to outsiders why suddenly certain freedoms are "unavailable"unavailable for them and us. Nor is it easy to explain to an outsider why power is a glass tiger. The outsider believes that American citizens, whatever their status, can save the world, or whatever portion of the world the outsider lives in. She or he absolutely refuses to believe that we Americans are not omnipotent, that we can shatter.

I shall blame my friend Kalamu ya Salaam for leading me down a straight-crooked New Orleans street and leaving me in explanatory difficulties. I had to explain the fragility of power as I talked this afternoon to a young man from Angola who lives in Zambia.

WeKalamu, Mahmud Rahman, and Iare supposed to be on our way to an African dinner and pleasant conversation. Instead, Kalamu turns off St. Bernard Avenue onto North Dorgenois and parks near Mama D's house/home/headquarters in the Seventh Ward.

Mama D (Dyan French Cole) is a force to be reckoned with. People who know what the official mass media is not reporting about New Orleans know that. She is an organizer. She has been called a matriarch. "Matriarch" sounds like an anthropological misnomer used by folks who don't know how to talk about Africans and African-descended people. As far as I am concerned, she is just a brave and ordinary woman who is capable of doing extraordinary things. She organizes life in her neighborhood and calls attention to how disorganized the political leadership of New Orleans is. Call her name and elected officials seek shelter in weird platitudes. She is a very active member of Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), a truth-teller. She did not flee in the face of Hurricane Katrina. She stayed and got harassed by the military, FEMA, the first and second responders as she tried and continues to try to make her neighborhood livable. She did not wait until the Women of the Storm went to Congress to do the right thing; her efforts were prototypes for what the women wanted to do. Media mavens pretend she and genuine grassroots efforts do not exist.

I think Kalamu wants Mahmud and me to be witnesses.

Mama D has known Kalamu for a long time. She smiles as she welcomes the odd people, Mahmud and me. She has been examining a box of photographs of the neighborhood with a friend, pictures that have to be used in a report. A young African man who is wearing fatigue pants, a fatigue cap, and a National Baptist something-or-other t-shirt is sitting on one of the stump-chairs near the sidewalk. He rises and shakes hands with us. I tell Mama D that people in New York were quite impressed with what she said at the Shabazz Conversation last fall. She nods and gives me some intriguing details about that trip, then informs all of us about her current work, the Japanese newspeople who have documented it, theVietnamese shopkeepers down the block and their fronting for the drug traffic, the volunteer she sent back to Jerusalem and the other volunteer she helped to rescue from Lebanon, how the City Council is playing games with voting districts and people's lives, and . . . "Hey, now" she goes to greet one of her sisters who has just driven up.

I ask the young man where he is from. "Africa." I already knew. His face, his body build, his accent said that. "No. I mean which part. I would guess East Africa." His expression changes quickly. "I'm from southern Africa. I think of Africa as one country. Originally, I am from Angola but I live in Zambia. I have a lot of property there." I tell him it is important to be specific about nations or countries. Given what I have to teach students, it is very important to prevent their overlooking details and inventing a continent as a single country. He is undaunted. He has dreams of unification despite neo-colonialism. Bursting with idealism and optimism he lectured me on the crucial role that African Americans have in saving the continent of Africa.

An African man is trying to shave my soul, to convert me to his belief that if we pray, God will answer our prayers and allow Africa to become a country rather than a death-friendly continent.

The man is afflicted with the missionary disease. There are some prayers that God refuses to answer, and no doubt God has legitimate godly reasons for remaining silent.

We do agree on one thing. The world should have rushed to help Robert G. Mugabe appropriate all the arable land in Zimbabwe and restore it to the people so they would be able to feed themselves and minimize the domination of the Other, the post-colonial Other. After all, the then superpowers of the world did not hesitate to help Zionists appropriate Israel in the late 1940s. If we can not avoid having injustice, injustice should be equally distributed.

I have to explain to this young man what I am sure he understands better than I. The destruction of the Organization of African Unity and its displacement by Africa Union has left Africans at the mercy of the International Monetary Fund and other neocolonial powers that know Africa is the wealthiest continent on the earth and that Africans are peoples who allow their freedoms to be compromised by their leaders and by their deep belief in the human. The image is vulgar because what is happening in 2006 on the continent of Africa is vulgar and obscene. And all the blame cannot be attributed to the European white man. We can not entertain that fib to absolve ourselves of shared guilt.

Truth is an adult who does not sit in a playpen with stupidity. Some of the blame is carried by the Arabs, the Muslims and devotees of Islam, who live north of the Sahara and who commit vicious acts of genocide. Some of the blame is festering in American foreign policy. Some of the blame is carried, I tell the young man, by the people from the Middle East, who brought Islam and slavery to a wide swath of his beloved continent, who own the best stores in Dakar and the best seats on the OPEC Board. And soon blame will be carried by the Chinese and their Indian comrades. Read the current trade agreements and treaties. Listen to treason.

Is this young African man a daemonic agent come to test my sanity? He is forcing me to preview the script for the destruction of Africa in the twenty-first century. The bad dream he has given me of reality is much too painful. It has all the colors and tones of the slave gospel. He is making me wish to wipe Man and Woman from the face of the earth. Do he and I have the same impersonal interest in secular salvation? the same personal Savior? Richard Wright shoots words through my mind. "Man, God Ain't Like That." Can I unbrand the scars inside the young African man's head? Can he batter down the prisonhouse time has erected in my own?

I look very deeply into the ancient eyes of the young man. My gaze has to hack its way through a lot of tall missionary grass to reach the clearing. It is night, but the clearing is brightly lit by the splintered stars that were once the teeth of President Juvenal Habyarimana. The clearing is huge. My eyes sweep across the thousands upon thousands of crucified Hutsi [Hutu + Tutsi]. The signs tacked at the top of each cross read: IN GOD WE TRUSTED.

Here be genocide. The Rwanda genocide. 1994. The names have been erased from the stories and buried. Ethnicity has reshuffled history a thousand times and the narratives are not entitled. Not entitled to be entitled. It must be the season of the witch. Smashed heads, amputated legs and arms, a ginger-colored finger, a nailed foot, raped and sodomized bodies that will not rotall these bit and pieces of humanity hang on the crosses. The blinding bright eyes of the dead children stare accusations at me. My ears consume cruel French-inflected African laughter. All I can smell is the stench of repetitions orchestrated by the World Bank, the IMF, Africa Union. I am not devastated. I am demolished, shattered.

He tries to read the writing inside my head. I can feel him turning the pages, puzzling to decipher my handwriting. I tell him that African Americans and Africans have yet to resolve their self-hatred and death-desires, their class and ideological divisions. Perhaps in time we shall. Several hundred more years. We can cooperate and become kinsmen once more. We must first have separate resolutions for local problems. We must remember that the local is knotted with the universal. These are not problems on which either Africans or African Americans have a monopoly. These are the problems of contemporary Man and Woman, world problems. My young African brother and I are glass tigers, just like all the conflicted wretches of the Earth, and we can not help the entire continent of Africa any more than the Italians and the Italian Americans can help the entire continent of Europe. I look at the man’s face with tough love. He must go home and help with improving Zambia. I must stay in New Orleans and help with improving Louisiana. We can only help one another by embracing the power of fire. "I believe," I tell him, "in the match." He manages to agree with that veiled message. He and I know that the fires burning now do not belong to us.

Our separate worlds must burn time with our own fires before unification occurs.

When shall we succeed in teaching our children that they must love themselves enough not to kill the people in their towns, townships, and ghettoes or "hoods"the people who are themselves? When shall we African Americans teach them to love the hair God gave them enough not to make the Koreans, who are only too willing to help them ruin the hair, very wealthy? Or, as Mama D told us earlier this afternoon, she recently had to cuss out a young sister who cut off her beautiful African hair and replaced with the tail hair of inferior Asian horses. Extensions of African retentions.

The young man believes that if a sufficient number of African Americans left the United States and took all their consumer power with them to Africa (and he was not specific about the destinations of the immigrants) , then the world economy would change and Africa would profit. Dreams. The young man is full of naïve dreams. His understanding of world politics is a calculated innocence. I do not want him to become a part of our benign genocide. I want him to live. He is helping me to understand much, much better Richard Wright’s Black Power and its multiple levels of significance; he is helping me to understand the emotional well from which Wright’s anger came when he visited the Gold Coast in 1953.

The Africans in various lands that have all the wrong boundaries will have to first heal themselves and their ancient ethnic hatreds and reset boundaries before they can call upon African Americans for help. And the help, I warn my young brother, will be long in arriving. We are too busy with trying to regain our compromised freedoms in the United States, for we laid our matches down and they got wet.

When the young man hops in his van and drives off to yet another mission, I come back to the late afternoon sunlight, to New Orleans and North Dorgenois, to Mama D, Kalamu, and Mahmud. I glue all the shattered pieces of me together, knowing that I have been to the sources. I am starving for dinner at Bennachin.

It was destined that Mahmud Rahman should have heard parts of the African / African American dialogue. He, Kalamu, and I are all actors in this post-Katrina performance. He grew up in Bangladesh and now lives in Oakland, Ishmael Reed territory. He is a journalist and fiction writer who knows much about the United States and its ethnic problems. According to his webpage, he is very much interested in "the metaphor of water as the agency of escape, life, death, and reflection." He is in New Orleans, I am sure, to see how the metaphor of water plays its music here. He is on his long trip to home, traveling deeper into writing a novel set in contemporary Bangladesh. After dinner, I assure him the critics will love his novel. They are mad for the postcolonial. I hope Mahmud will come to New Orleans again. I would really enjoy having a conversation with him about the sources and compromised freedoms.

posted 21 August 2006

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *

The Katrina Papers is not your average memoir. It is a fusion of many kinds of writing, including intellectual autobiography, personal narrative, political/cultural analysis, spiritual journal, literary history, and poetry. Though it is the record of one man's experience of Hurricane Katrina, it is a record that is fully a part of his life and work as a scholar, political activist, and professor.  The Katrina Papers  provides space not only for the traumatic events but also for ruminations on authors such as Richard Wright and theorists like Deleuze and Guattarri. The result is a complex though thoroughly accessible book. The struggle with formthe search for a medium proper to the complex social, personal, and political ramifications of an event unprecedented in this scholar's life and in American social historylies at the very heart of The Katrina Papers . It depicts an enigmatic and multi-stranded world view which takes the local as its nexus for understanding the global.  It resists the temptation to simplify or clarify when simplification and clarification are not possible. Ward's narrative is, at times, very direct, but he always refuses to simplify the complex emotional and spiritual volatility of the process and the historical moment that he is witnessing. The end result is an honesty that is both pedagogical and inspiring.Hank Lazer

*   *   *   *   *

The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008) is a marvelous resource! It's not like any encyclopedia I've seen before. Already, I have spent hours reading through the various entries. So much is there: people, themes, issues, events, bibliographies, etc., related to Wright. Yours is a monumental contribution! The more I read Wright (and about him), the more I am amazed at the depth and breadth of his work and its impact on the worlds of literature, philosophy, politics, sociology, history, psychology, etc. He was formidable! Floyd W. Hayes

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign.  The Economy

*   *   *   *   *

Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)






update 5 March 2012




Home  Jerry W. Ward Jr. Table and Bio  Literary New Orleans   Black Arts and Black Power Figures   Katrina Survivor Stories